Detroit Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett recently appeared on a podcast where he was asked if Lions coach Matt Patricia is irritated with the “tough questions” he gets from Detroit sports writers.
Birkett said that Patricia has shown no angst toward media members. I don’t know why Patricia would be upset. He is getting a free pass in this town from the media despite one of the worst records in Lions history. The heat was definitely turned up higher on former coach Jim Caldwell who won at a much higher clip than Patricia.
I give you four reasons why this is the case.
CLASS AND RACE: Caldwell was black and Patricia white. Caldwell is a pop pop and Patricia a Patriot. Before I retired from newspaper I thought the criticism of Caldwell was harsh considering the team he coached. The Lions are not a good organization. Since 2000 the Lions have only won nine or more games five times — three times under Caldwell. It was interesting that General Manager Bob Quinn said 9-7 isn’t good enough after he fired Caldwell and replaced him with his Patriots buddy. That should be the rallying cry for every article and commentary about the Lions. 9-7 is not good enough. Neither is 10-24-1, which is Patricia’s record. I asked some of my media brothers and sisters if they’d give a white coach the same treatment as Caldwell and they assured me they would. Well so far they have failed. Every article does not have to be fire the coach. But we need more scrutiny of this regime. We do need some “what the fuck is going on here” stories. I am not accusing the Detroit media of being racist. But I do believe that they gave a white guy from New England more rope to figure it out. They rightly pointed out Caldwell’s bad clock management and that back and forth type of thing. But here is the dark secret. The players swore by Caldwell and played at a higher level. That ended when Patricia took over believing he was the second coming of Bill Belichick.
Defensive tackle and former Lion Ndamukong Suh said Caldwell deserves more credit for what he did here.
“Caldwell was the answer and didn’t get the ample opportunity to fully put his finger prints on the team,” Suh wrote, “let alone make crucial decisions for further success!
“Additionally, the community, if I’m not mistaken, loved and fully embraced the Caldwell’s!”
I’m not so sure about his last point. However, a Port Huron columnist ruffled some feathers when he accused the Detroit sports media of being too harsh with Caldwell and questioned would they give a white coach the same gruff treatment.
Well I guess we know the answer to those questions.
I do want to applaud Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor. He knows Rob Parker and I both are disappointed with how the Detroit media has handled Patricia. He at least reached out to asked questions and wanted to know why we felt this way and asked how the media could be better and more fair. Windsor by the way defended Caldwell and believed his firing was a mistake.
COVID-19: Because of the pandemic reporters are not in the dressing room every day building relationships and getting a good read of the team. They don’t know who is upset with Patricia, how many players are disgruntled and what the mood of the room is.
We all know that Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs were not happy with Patricia or the scheme. In typical Lions fashion when you speak out you are shipped out.
The media is getting most of its information from players and coaches on closely monitored zoom calls. Players cannot tell the truth on these calls. These are not informational opportunities for the media. They are more like marketing opportunities for the team.
Getting a read of a team is not easy. Players are guarded and teams send interns scurrying around the dressing room to monitor what they are saying. However, it is still possible to build relationships and if a player trust you he will give you the law of the land. You might not be able to use their names, but they will sometimes tell you what is going on behind the scenes.
3. THERE IS NO ROB PARKER, DREW SHARP OR ME: We were more likely to challenge the status quo and write what we felt, not what felt good.
Drew and I wrote on the same day that former Michigan State football coach Bobby Williams should be fired. I also got into it with Pistons coach Doug Collins when I wrote he was losing the team despite 50-win seasons. I got cursed out by Rod Marinelli in part because I believed he was a bum.
Former President Matt Millen told both me and Rob that he sometimes found some of our criticisms of him humorous and entertaining. We kept the heat on him because he was failing at his job while going through the darkest times in Lions history.
Rob routinely wrote that Wayne Fontes should be fired despite making the playoffs now and then. His mistake was taking it too far and asking if Marinelli wishes he had a different son in law as defensive coordinator.
Drew loved to rattle cages. And he would take the heat while facing his adversaries. The sports media in Detroit is different now. The objective is to write well and tell good stories, not push like hell and write strong opinion pieces. The media does not to act as leaders of the sports community and advocate change.
There are some exceptions. My former broadcast partner Mike Valenti at 97.1 The Ticket has been on Patricia’s case since last season and does not believe he is the man to lead the Lions from this second coming of the Matt Millen era.
Sports Illustrated asked is the relationship between Lion players and coaches strained, who should replace Bob Quinn and that the legacy of Caldwell has grown because of the failures of Patricia.
The Lions win percentage under Millen was .270 and was the worst stretch in Lions history. Patricia is not far behind with his anemic .272 win percentage.
4. THERE IS A DIFFERENT MIND SET: Our sports columnist are too polite. No one wants to rock the boat. The harshest criticisms of Patricia have come from former Lions players, including quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky who took exception with Patricia who said he had a lot of work to do when he took over the job three seasons ago.
“To come in and say that you had a lot of work to do is completely false. It’s a bunch of trash! This team was built for growth, not regression,” Orlovsky said on ESPN Radio.
If we do see a scathing report on Patricia I would suspect it would come from the Freep’s Carlos Monarrez. He can be a bulldog. However, he is in a tough spot as the backup beat writer for the Freep. If he is too critical he can be shut out by the Lions while trying to gather information.Find Terry Foster Podcast here: